Seats by bloc: Israel 2015 vs. 2013

An important lesson from this week’s Israeli election: in complex multi-bloc political systems, the government that forms really is at least as much about the inter-party bargaining between elections as it is about the elections themselves.

Yesterday I noted the (small) changes in votes for the right, Here I will look at all the blocs. Note: blocs, plural–point being, there is no single left or center-left bloc to oppose the right or replace it as government. Caution: the 2015 results are not yet official.

Labor won 15 seats in 2013, and Tzipi Livni’s HaTnuah won 6. The blended list of these two forces (branded Zionist Union) is at 24 in the preliminary results of this election. [some correction of sloppy writing since original posting]

By contrast, the main parties of the right, Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Bayit Yehudi, appear to have won 44 seats in this election. They won 43 in 2013 (when the first two of these had a blended list).

Yes, that is a net gain of 3 for the center-left and a net gain of 1 for the right. Such a landslide for Bibi!

We should add Meretz to the left bloc; this party won 6 seats in 2013 and looks to have 5 in 2015. So that would bring the net gain to this larger definition of the left down to 2.

The ultra-orthodox (Haredi) parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, combine for 13 seats. That is a fairly substantial drop from 18 in 2013.

The Joint List of Arab parties and the Jewish-Arab party, Hadash, is currently on 13 seats, whereas the three separate lists presented by this bloc (if we can even call it that, other than for threshold-clearing purposes this time) won 11 in 2013.

And then there is the assemblage of centrist parties (not counting Linvi’s, which we already accounted for): Yesh Atid, Kadima, and Kulanu. These parties combined for 21 seats (19 of them for Yesh Atid) in 2013. They also have 21 in this election, with Kadmia no longer in existence and Kulanu new to the scene.

Toting things up by bloc, from winners to losers:

    Arab +2
    Left +2
    Right +1
    Center +/- 0
    Haredi -5

Not much change, but the smallest gainer and biggest loser have enough to form a government, when combined with the centrist (or soft right) Kulanu.

The real difference in government outcomes will be less the voting patterns having shifted than shifts since 2013 in inter-party relations. In 2013, the election outcome would have allowed a right-Haredi coalition with the absolute bare majority of seats, 61. For various reasons, Likud leader and PM Benjamin Netanyahu preferred to bring into the coalition the election’s biggest seat gainer, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (who had 19 seats). Lapid and Naftali Bennet, leader of Bayit Yehudi, however, jointly thwarted the inclusion of the Haredi parties, having both campaigned (for their own reasons) in favor of “equalizing the burden” (ending military exemptions for the ultra-orthodox). Netanyahu never wanted this coalition, and seized upon various (largely manufactured) policy disagreements in late 2014 to un-do the government and force an early election. And now he can form a coalition with his natural partners, and with a likely more pliant centrist force in Kulanu. This latter party is headed by a former Likud minister and includes a former ambassador to the US (who served under Netanyahu).

Bottom line: There is no big shift to the right whatsoever in this election. But, with Shas and UTJ replacing Lapid and Livni, there will be a shift in both a right and religiously Orthodox direction to the governing coalition.

Four days to election, Likud still looks hard to beat

A poll by Smith/Resget Blue on 13 March is one of the most favorable polls yet for the main center-left list, Zionist Camp (Labor + Livni + Greens). And even so, I still can’t see how you get to the necessary 61 to form a majority coalition without combining parties that are quite unlikely to agree to sit together.

That is, even with a 4-seat deficit, Likud retains the easier path to successful completion of coalition bargaining.

This does not stop reporters from writing things like this:

Israel’s center-left opposition is poised for an upset victory in next week’s parliamentary election, with the last opinion polls before Tuesday’s vote giving it a solid lead over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party. (Reuters)

The election is Tuesday. There could still be an upset center-left victory, but it would require some surprising coalition choices over the next month or so, not merely a lead for Zionist Camp on election night.

Estonia election, 2015

Guest post by Rune Holmgaard Andersen

On March 1, Estonia held its sixth general election since regaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The turnout was 64.2%; a marginal increase from the 63.0% in the 2011 election. 19.6% of the electorate cast their vote through the internet. In addition to the four parties represented in the last Riigikogu (parliament), two new parties – the Free Party (FP) and the Estonian National Conservative People’s Party (ENCP) – entered the political scene. The FP is a ‘purifier party’ mainly consisting of conservative defectors from the Pro Patria-Res Publica Union (PP-RP), whereas the ENCP is a genuinely new far-right nationalist-populist party. While loosing three seats, the Reform Party could, for the third time in a row, declare itself winner of the election

Table 1. Vote and seat distribution

2015 2011
Votes (%) Seats Votes (%) Seats
Reform Party (RP) 27.7 30 28.6 33
Center Party (CP) 24.8 27 23.3 26
Social Democratic Party (SD) 15.2 15 17.1 19
Pro Patria-Res Publica Union (PP-RP) 13.7 14 20.5 23
Free Party (FP) 8.7 8
Estonian National Conservative People’s Party (NCPP) 8.1 7
Other, not passing 5% electoral threshold 1.8 0 10.5 0
Seats in the Riigikogu 101 101

Laakso & Taagepera Effective number of parties (seats): 4.7 (2015), 3.8 (2011)


Estonia has a tradition of majority governments, and the best prediction is that this will also be the outcome of the upcoming coalition talks. As outlined in Table 2, the seat distribution allows for eight different “minimal winning coalitions.”

Table 2: Possible minimal winning coalitions

  Coalition Seats
1 RP + SD + PP-RP 59
2 RP + CP 57
3 CP + PP-RP + FP + NCPP 56
4 CP + SD + PP-RP 56
5 RP + SD + FP 53
6 RP + SD + NCPP 52
7 RP + PP-RP + FP 52
8 RP + PP-RP + NCPP 51

The Reform Party has been at the helm of every government since 2005, and is likely to remain in power during the coming election period. The party has shown itself very flexible when choosing among possible junior partners, and political differences have seldom been allowed to block the formation of beneficial power-sharing coalitions.

The willingness to trade politics for power was most recently displayed during April 2014, when newly appointed party chairman, Mr Taavi Rõivas (35), decided to form a new coalition with the Social Democrats (SD), thereby leaving its long-term coalition partner and closest political ally, the Pro Patria-Res Publica Union, in the shadow. However, following the “Bronze Soldier” riots in Tallinn in April 2007, the Reform Party has ruled out any cooperation with the Center Party (CP), which enjoys overwhelming support among ethnic Russians, as long as long-serving party “godfather,” Mr. Edgar Savisaar, remains in control of the party. Hence, unless Center Party back-benchers rebel against Mr. Savisaar, a two-party coalition (option 2) between the Reform Party and the Centre Party seems unlikely. The same goes for the only two minimal winning coalitions not including the Reform Party (option 3 and 4). Neither the Social Democrats, the Pro Patria-Res Publica Union or the two new parties are likely to engage in any form of cooperation with Mr. Savisaar, even if they were offered a good bargain.

Ruling out coalitions with the Center Party leaves five options, which all include the Reform Party. However, option 6 and 8 are also unlikely as none of the remaining four parties will be willing to associate themselves with the Estonian National Conservative Party.

With the two “pariah parties” out of the game, only three options are left: a coalition between the Reform Party, the Social Democrats, and the Pro Patria-Res Publica Union (option 1), a coalition consisting of the Reform Party, the Social Democrats, and the Free Party (option 5), and, lastly, a coalition uniting the Reform Party, the Pro Patria-Res Publica Union and the Free Party (option 7). All three options appear politically viable which gives the Reform Party, being the pivotal player, a strong bargaining position. Given its newness – and thus somewhat questionable discipline – Mr. Rõivas might be wary of inviting the Free Party to join the government coalition. However, doing so would severely weaken the bargaining power of both the Social Democrats and the Pro Patria-Res Publica Union. Both the Social Democrats and the Pro Patria-Res Publica Union are eager to secure themselves a membership of the government, and will, with the prospect of having the Free Party in government, be willing to sell themselves cheaply. The Pro Patria-Res Publica Union holds a grudge against both the Reform Party, having been dismissed from the government back in May 2014, and against the conservative PP-RP defectors that now form the core of the Free Party. Hence, while they are both policy-connected minimal-winning coalitions, the risk that bad blood will affect the daily working of the government might make options 1 and 7 unattractive choices. While the marriage between the Reform Party and the Social Democrats has not been a happy one, they both have an interest in staying together. Option 5 – a coalition with the Social Democrats and the Free Party – offers the Reform Party a workable majority and, with a scorned but eager Pro Patria-Res Publica Union on the side-line, plenty of outside options should the Social Democrats of the Free Party fall out of line.

No matter which of the three options materialize, the political outlook for Estonian politics is likely to remain unchanged. As evident from latter years politics, the name of the Reform Party is largely a misnomer. The Reform Party will stand surely for domestic stability, but has little appetite for implementing a much needed municipal reform to solve regional economic imbalances or to take action to curb the ongoing problem of large-scale emigration. The Reform Party, the Social Democrats, the Pro Patria-Res Publica Union, and the Free Party are all pro-NATO and pro-EU, and will work towards further integration with its Western neighbors. In particular, Estonia will seek to deepen its ties with the USA in order to gain security guarantees in its relations with Russia, which is seen as an immanent threat to Estonian sovereignty. Politically, Estonia is likely to move even further towards its Nordic neighbors.


Rune Holmgaard Andersen is a PhD student at the Institute of Political Science at the University of Tartu, Estonia and assistant lecturer at the University of Roskilde, Denmark. Through more than 15 years, Rune has followed Estonian politics. He is an expert on neo-institutional economics, post-communist political and economic transition, and popular perceptions of democracy.





Israel coalition possibilities

Jeremy Saltan summarizes the key messages of an Israeli party leaders’ debate held the last week of February. He observes that much of the debate focused around the stages after the seats are allocated: the recommendation of a formateur (party leader who will attempt to assemble a coalition) and which parties a given party would, or would not, agree to sit with. Examining these public commitments can offer clues to where the cabinet formation process is headed.

Of course, politicians have incentives to appear committed to extract a better deal, so no statement of refusal to take a given partner absolutely rules out such a partnership. On the other hand, to break a commitment, a party leader is likely to demand just that–a better deal. Thus we can assume that statements of intent before an election are signals that rise farther above the noise than most: breaking them is not costless, either for the party whose leader made the statement, or for potential partners who have to give up something important to make a deal.

These statements matter, because the path to a majority coalition for the Zionist Union (Labor + HaTnua) is so narrow. Zionist Union currently looks to win around 24 seats. A majority coalition headed by Zionist Union, but not including Likud, would start with the following parties, with their likely seats indicated*: Meretz (5), Kulanu (8), Yesh Atid (12). At this point we are at 49, meaning 12 more are needed. The most likely place is the ultra-Orthdox parties, of which we have three this time, although one of them (Yachad) is polling just barely at the threshold (4 seats). The other two, Shas and UTJ are combining for 13-14 seats. Obviously, that’s good enough, we are over 61.

But wait! Yesh Atid leader, Yair Lapid, built much of his campaign in 2013 and his party’s record in government around “equalizing the burden”, meaning the reduction of draft exemptions and other policy benefits to the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox). In fact, he and Bayit Yehudi (otherwise a right-wing religious-nationalist party) vetoed the inclusion of the Haredi parties in the last government. Would he agree to serve in a cabinet with them this time to block a Likud-led government? Don’t count on it. Summarizing the statements of Lapid in the debate, Saltan concludes, “Lapid crushed Herzog’s dream of having both of them in the same coalition.” The refusals come from the other side, too, as Shas’s leader Aryeh “Deri made it clear he will sit with anyone including Eli Yishai [Shas defector now heading Yachad], but he won’t sit with Yair Lapid”.

So we are back at 49-50 seats, with either Yesh Atid or the Haredi parties out. Where are the other 12 (or 11) coming from? There is only one bloc not on the right that could have that number of seats: the Joint List, which is made up of the Arab parties (including Hadash, which has one Jewish MK). These are non-Zionist parties. Can they make a coalition with a party that brands itself as Zionist Union? Can Zionist Union bring them in? I’d say no. There could be “understandings” by which the Joint List’s parties agree to try to block a Likud-led coalition and to support a ZU-led government on specific issues, but it is almost impossible to imagine a ZU-led coalition that needs those seats for its governing and budget-making majority. But don’t listen to me, listen to the leaders. “The Joint List’s Iman Udah refused to commit to helping Herzog in Phase 2 (formateur recommendation) or 3 (coalition making)”, says Saltan. So, refusing to commit to help is not the same as won’t help, but it is not exactly a lifeline you’d want to count on. Herzog himself says he has not ruled out the Arab parties. Still, it is quite a stretch to believe he would be dependent on them. Moreover, it is entirely possible that even if Herzog and the Joint List reached agreement, he’d lose Lapid and/or Kahlon, and quite likely the Haredim.** (All this despite the fact that the Arab parties might win more seats than ever, thanks to the Joint List, and a poll showing a majority of Arab voters want the Joint List in government. The bottom line is that the Joint List was formed to cope with the threshold increase, not to be part of the government of Israel.)

Where else are the seats coming from? There isn’t a path to a ZU-led, Likud-free government. Simple as that. Unless the polls change a lot in the last two weeks, Likud will be in the government.

Note, I did not say Likud will lead the government. How about a ZU-Likud coalition. This would control around 47 seats. I see no reason why Yesh Atid and Kulanu would not clamber on board. That’s 67 seats. So it could happen. However, in the past week, “Prime Minister Netanyahu posted on his Facebook page and Twitter that he will not join a coalition with the Zionist Union”. So, it appears ruled out. On the other hand, what if he finishes second, and Herzog makes a public declaration for unity? Who knows!

It is not as if the largest party gets the first chance to attempt to form a government. Just ask Livni! She led Likud by a seat in 2009, but there was clearly a right-wing bloc with a majority and so Likud led the coalition that formed, leaving Livni’s Kadima isolated (or in sweet disconnect, as I put it at the time). That could easily happen again: Likud (23), Bayit Yehudi (12), Kulanu (8), Yisrael Beiteinu (6), Haredim (12+). Where things get interesting is if some of the above parties abstain from recommending Bibi Netanyahu to be formateur. Consider that the parties just named (minus Kulanu, which did not exist) had a majority in the outgoing Knesset; if they were all eager to govern together, they could have done so without this election. Thus there are several parties that could be open to a government not led by Likud, but it is unlikely that such a government would exclude Likud, for the reasons noted previously. Thus the most likely outcome remains a Likud-led government in which the Haredim are involved, Yesh Atid is not, and Yisrael Beiteinu is much diminished (but still pivotal). That actually would be a fairly different government from the one that formed after the 2013 election, but the man in the PM’s chair would remain the same.


* See the first link. I am using the numbers Saltan provides from the “poll of polls” for the week ending 28 February.

** Saltan again: Deri of Shas “said there is no partner for peace with the Palestinians and rejected [Joint List leader] Iman Udah’s offer to work together if Udah remains focused on the Palestinian issue.”

Greek ends-against-the-middle coalition

In the Greek election, Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) ended up with 149 seats, just two seats short of a majority. It quickly agreed to form a coalition with ANEL, the party known as Independent Greeks, which won 13 seats. This is a right-wing party.

A deal with the right-wing party makes an unusual alliance between parties on the opposite end of the political spectrum but brought together by a mutual hatred for the EU/IMF bailout program keeping Greece afloat.

Despite the seemingly odd combination of left and right, the prospect was foreshadowed:

A party born of Greece’s economic crisis, the nationalist Independent Greeks (ANEL) helped Syriza block a presidential vote in December that brought about Sunday’s general election. Party leader Panos Kammenos, 49, has been preening himself as a potential partner for Syriza partner ever since.

Apparently To Potami (The River, a new party, with 17 seats) was interested in joining Syriza, but the latter rejected the idea of working with a more centrist party in favor of one sharing their hardline stance on the EU loan terms, even if that meant a party on the opposite side of so many other issues.

ANEL’s campaign also apparently signaled a role working with Syriza:

ANEL’s tongue-in-cheek campaign ad made plain Kammenos’ aspirations: he walks into a shop and gives a little boy named Alexis — a stand-in for fresh-faced Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras — tips on how to steer his toy train.

The possibility of Syriza-ANEL cooperation was raised back in November, and denied by a Syriza MP. That should have been our sign that it was inevitable that that would work together!

The big problem with the “rotation” deal

The Israeli press, especially Haaretz, has carried several critical opinion pieces since the announcement of the joint list and rotation agreement between Labor, led by Isaac Herzog, and HaTnua, led by Tzipi Livni. (On the agreement, see previous post.) One problem with the deal that has been less directly addressed–with one partial exception that I will cite below–is its impracticality. Or, more to the point, its non-enforceability.

When a Prime Minister resigns, as Herzog promises to do after two years, there must be a new government-formation process. Therefore, the deal between two leaders of one list can’t bind the other parties. (It can’t actually bind Herzog, as the first PM under the deal, but that is another matter.)

Let’s suppose that Labor(-plus) does win the most seats in the election, as several polls now suggest is possible if the election were held now. (It is not till March.) Let’s also suppose that Herzog and Livni operate under the best of faith and fully intend to honor the deal by which Herzog steps aside and Livni replaces him. So far, so good. But then comes the problem. The deal would also require the coalition partners who form the Herzog-led government to agree to it. It further requires the coalition partners to uphold the deal after two years, when the “new government” has to be formed (and there would be a new formation process under the terms of the Basic Law, Government, Art. 19). That is a lot of to expect!

So, while the deal may be good in the polls, it has a flaw in its non-enforceability. Will enough Israeli voters buy it to give it a chance? At the moment, the same polls that put Labor ahead also suggest a right-wing government headed by Likud and with Benjamin Netanyahu, is more viable. Being first in seats does not guarantee a party/alliance the right to form a government. Just ask Livni. She has been there before.

The Herzog-Livni deal draws on the precedent of prior arrangements in which the Prime Minister was changed at midterm. However, these really are not very relevant as precedents. In the two previous rotation agreements, it was two separate parties making the deal, and together controlling a majority of the Knesset. While there still would have been the possibility that the party initially holding the top post might renege, the (potential) problem was only one of commitment between the two leaders and their parties. (For overviews of Israel’s “unity” governments, see the Washington Institute’s useful history; the cases involving rotation agreements were 1984 and 1988.) By contrast, the Herzog-Livni agreement is a pre-electoral commitment regarding their own list, but would depend on consent of various other, post-election, coalition partners. More specifically, it would depend on two rounds of bargaining with those partners.

One article in Haaretz went so far as to quote a “source” inside Labor as admitting the rotation deal was not necessarily viable:

Don’t get too upset, sourpuss analysts. The arrangement for a rotation between the two is good for now, for the start of the election campaign…

It has been well received by young voters and women; it conveys confidence and power. When the time comes and Herzog is asked to form a government, he and Livni will sit down and negotiate with the others all options on the table. If Kahlon demands a rotation, that too will be considered. We’re not naïve, and that won’t be a hindrance to forming a government.

Moshe Kahlon is leader of a just-registered new centrist party, Kulanu.

Yes, there will be a lot to consider. In the meantime, maybe it will help get votes, under the assumption that voters do not work through the next steps and all the pitfalls they put in the way of a rotation promise.

Labor and Livni’s HaTnua presenting a joint list, promising to rotate PM

Israeli politics never ceases to amaze! A union of Labour and Livni’s HaTnua has been widely anticipated, and several polls now have shown this combined list would win more seats than Likud. But a rotation of the premiership if the combined list is in a position to form a government? I never imagined such a deal.

As the article in Times of Israel notes, “There is a precedent for prime ministerial rotation in Israel. Labor’s Shimon Peres and Likud’s Yitzhak Shamir led the country in that format between 1984 and 1988.” But note the difference: that was two parties–still the two big ones back then–agreeing to take turns. This deal is that one party (or, here, alliance) will swap the leader it has supplied to head the government at the midterm, and it means a far weaker partner supplying the PM for half the term. Quite unusual.

Regarding list formation:

Herzog is understood to have agreed to place Livni in the second place on the joint party list, as well as giving Hatnua the 6th, 21st and 25th slots on the joint list. The 6th slot was earmarked for former environment minister [and once Labor Party leader] Amir Peretz.

Those same polls still suggest the right would be more likely to form the government. (So far, Likud is probably losing votes to Bennet’s nationalist-Orthodox party, not to the center or left.) Is this a game changer that would attract enough votes off some of the right-wing parties? I would not count on it, but that’s obviously the intent.

Fixed term parliaments to be revisited?

Democratic Audit UK has a good discussion of the issue of fixed terms for the UK House of Commons, which were legislated by the current coalition government that took power following the 2010 election. A group of Tory backbenchers has proposed doing away with the 2011 Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

With a single-party majority in 2015 looking unlikely, it is not surprising that many Conservatives would prefer a return to the old pattern whereby a minority single-party government would just bide its time till things looked promising for going to the polls and potentially securing a parliamentary majority. (As I have noted in the recent past, there are such attitudes present in Labour Party quarters, as well.)

Arguments given by supporters of repeal are that MPs are more accountable when elections could come at any time and (predictably, given the source) that fixed terms give the junior partner in a coalition too much power. In the event of a future coalition, the supporters of repeal suggest there could be a “gentleman’s agreement” that the coalition should end only when both parties wish it to end. (Isn’t that precisely that the Fixed Term Parliaments Act was for? To make sure the “gentlemen” could mutually police their agreement?)

Democratic Audit’s editorial offers a series of reasons why keeping fixed terms is preferable. This was a matter that was discussed in a couple of threads here (#1, #2) at the time. What do readers think now?

Sweden’s 2014 election

In Sweden’s general election on 14 September, the bloc of center-left parties headed by the Social Democrats won 43.7% of the vote, with the incumbent center-right parties reduced to a combined 35.3%. The anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats have around 12%, or roughly a doubling of their support from 2010.

Stefan Löfven, the Social Democrat leader, has ruled out cooperation with the Sweden Democrats, as has the outgoing center-right leadership. That means that the statement I have heard and read in various media that the Sweden Democrats “hold the balance of power” is evidently false. In fact, center-right PM Fredrik Reinfeldt has already resigned.

The Guardian reports:

Löfven hinted instead at deals with the two smaller parties in the country’s rightwing alliance, whose combined 11.5% share would bring them close to a majority. “I want to say that the hand is extended to other democratic parties,” he said. “Our country is too small for conflict.”

I do not know enough about Swedish politics to assess this. Maybe someone can help. The two major blocs are often reported as “alliances”, in the sense of signaling in elections their intent to govern together, given a favorable election result. Normally, I’d expect pre-election alliances to imply also going into opposition as a bloc. This sort of election result can change things, but how readily would parties within an alliance in Sweden break and extend support to (or even enter a cabinet of) a government of the other bloc?

A related question is, to what extent (if at all) do the parties within an alliance cooperate in the elections themselves?

A final note, also from the Guardian:

Reinfeldt’s minority government benefited from the tacit support of the far right, whose MPs voted in favour of an overwhelming majority of their measures. But it has always refused any formal cooperation.

Presumably even such tacit cooperation is less an option for Löfven, and appears in any case to be ruled out by his public statements.

And a final final note: Löfven had not previously been elected to public office; this is quite unusual for prime ministers in parliamentary systems, especially long-established ones. In fact, just 21 of 377 (5.6%) of PMs in parliamentary democracies have no prior experience as an elected national or regional MP, or regional or municipal executive, according to the Samuels and Shugart dataset.*

* Or 24 of 391 (6.1%) have no parliamentary experience. (There are some missing data on some of the other experience variables.) For democracies older than the median parliamentary system in the dataset (18 years), only 6 of 203 (2.96%) PMs lack prior electoral experience.

Modi’s cabinet

The Indian Times reports that the cabinet of newly sworn-in Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, will be finalized soon. It will include 45 ministers, 24 of (full) Cabinet Rank, ten Ministers of State Independent Charge Ministers, and eleven other Ministers of State. (Yes, Indian cabinets, like Indian politics more generally, are rather complex.)

Of particular interest, ministers include:

Ram Vilas Paswan (of LJP), Ashok Gajpati Raju (TDP), Anant Geete (Shiv Sena), Harsimrat Kaur (Akali Dal), Narendra Singh Tomar, Jual Oram and Radhamohan Singh.

Why will it be a multi-party cabinet when a single party won a majority of seats? Because of alliances, as I point out in virtually every post I have written on India. This is a government of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a pre-electoral pact without which Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would not have the majority. Thus it will divide the executive amongst the major alliance partners.

The public comments of the two largest allies over the weekend are interesting in their distinct approach. Following a meeting with Modi, TDP leader N Chandrababu Naidu said, “I did not ask for any representation” in the cabinet (Indian Times). “We are an ally of the NDA, power is not important, national development is important.” Of course, if one interpreted that as forgoing any offers he knew were coming, one would be misinterpreting. By contrast, senior Shiv Sena leader Subhash Desai said, “Shiv Sena is expecting good positions in the central government. The BJP has assured us that would happen”. A bit more forthright.

One thing I do not know, but wish I did, is how much of the post-election division of powers is already worked out during the pre-election stage of setting the alliance (which includes mainly agreements on which partner will run where, in exchange for the other’s standing down), and how much is deferred till the results are known. I suppose some of both goes on.

Postscript: A more recent article suggests the cabinet will be somewhat smaller (30-35), and gives some of the specific portfolios. It also says, importantly, an expansion of the ministry could take place later.

Israeli “governance” law passed

The official Knesset press release has details of the new law to raise the threshold and make other changes in government formation.

As expected, the threshold is raised to 3.25%. I am pretty sure this is the first time anyone has used a threshold with a quarter percent in it. (Offhand I can’t think of a case that has used half a percent, other than Israel, where the threshold was 1.5% in 1996-99.)

The size of the cabinet will be limited to 18 ministers, and ministers without portfolio are eliminated. “However, the government will be able to appoint additional ministers if at least 70 Knesset members support the move.” The latter is an odd provision in that it gives the opposition a veto over composition of the government–unless, of course, the coalition includes at least 70 MKs.

There are also changes in rules governing splits between elections:

The approved amendment to Basic Law: The Government also eliminates the option permitted by current law that allows seven MKs to split from their faction, even if they do not constitute a third of it. The law states that an MK can leave his faction if it decides to merge with another faction, but that this MK must join a different faction. The party financing budget in this case will only go to a faction with at least two MKs.

Another important change is to make the no-confidence vote constructive. Sometimes the current Israeli provision (enacted with the repeal of direct election of the Prime Minister after 2001) is classified as “constructive”. However, really it is not, because it only mandates that the person named in the motion be given the first chance to form a government. The new measure, according to the press release:

states that an MK seeking a no-confidence vote in the government must propose an alternative government and nominate a prime minister and ministers. The parties seeking a no-confidence vote must also state the guidelines of the proposed alternative government. The new government will take office immediately after the Knesset plenum votes in favor of the no-confidence vote and for the new government in a single vote.

This actually goes even farther, I believe, than existing “constructive” provisions in Germany, Spain, and elsewhere. Those entail the election of a new prime minister on the same motion and vote that removes the incumbent government, but do not require the naming of ministers. I’d like to see a translation of the full provision to be sure that the press release is accurately portraying it, but this seems like a sort of super-constructive vote of no confidence.

The law passed with a 67-0 vote, with opposition members boycotting.

Are there only bad alternatives to gridlock? Really?

The Monkey Cage blog, which describes itself as a forum where “we talk about political science research and use it to make some sense of the circus that is politics”, has a post today that is written as if the entire field of comparative political institutions were a non-entity. It is all the more troubling in that its author is a very eminent political science professor, Morris P. Fiorina, of Stanford, much of whose work I admire and have found influential.

Running under the headline, “Gridlock is bad. The alternative is worse.”, the post suggests that reform proposals* aimed at reducing some of the obstacles to the executive’s enactment of policies would risk transforming the USA into a version of the UK that he learned “in my undergraduate courses decades ago”, with nationalizations by a government of one party followed by de-nationalizations by a government of the other party.

It is not as if Fiorina is unaware of multiparty politics in parliamentary systems, as he mentions the presence of more “a bit more than two parties” in some other countries. Yet, from reading the post, you’d come away thinking Germany had a “two party system” and that the most recent election in that country was as unusual as that of Britain in requiring coalition negotiations. You would also come away with no idea that Germany has one of the world’s most extensive systems of judicial review. Or that Cameron or other UK PMs might have occasional challenges dealing with his own backbenchers. He says:

In parliamentary democracies, parliamentary majorities toe the line set by the executive, and there are no powerful independent judiciaries.

This is a cartoon version of parliamentary government. One could look at any of the standard works on comparative democracy, such as Powell (1982), Lijphart (1984, 1999), and numerous others to see that political science knowledge on this topic is–and has been for a while–rather more nuanced than Fiorina presents it to be. (Or–shameless plug alert–one could read the forthcoming A Different Democracy.)

Even while eventually acknowledging that “the old thinking may well be dated”, Fiorina still offers more of it by speaking of parliamentary coalition governments in clearly negative terms: “In their recent elections the winning parties in Britain and Germany failed to win a majority of seats and were forced into protracted negotiations and uncomfortable compromises before forming governments”, followed by the standard implication that minor parties are given too much power by such deals.

For the record, the coalition bargaining that resulted in the current governments of Britain and the Germany were not especially “protracted” by any reasonable standard, and except in specific conditions (such as extreme fragmentation) small parties have to compromise at least as much as big ones to enter coalitions when there is no “winning” party. Moreover, a clear advantage of typical coalitions consisting of two or a few parties is that they publish and mutually commit to a package of agreements on policy. Sure, they have ongoing disagreements to resolve, but nothing like the continuous non-resolution of disputes that has come to characterize US politics. This pattern of inter-party consensus in most parliamentary governments is neither gridlock nor unleashing the executive; there are alternatives, and the alternatives are how most of the advanced industrial countries govern themselves.

Frankly, the post is beneath the standards of a blog that aims to bring the state-of-the-art of political science to a broad readership.

* Fiorina mentions, in passing, but does not engage with several reforms, each with a link: “Restrict campaign finance. Make House and Senate terms the same length, and elect representatives and senators at the same time as the president. Empower the presidency.”

UK bill on EU referendum

From the 8 January Guardian, “Labour and Lib Dem whips discuss how to block Tory-backed EU referendum“. Two points of particular interest:

Clerks have controversially told ministers that the Parliament Act can be used on a private member’s bill, so allowing the Commons to enforce their will against unelected peers.

The Parliament Act is the law by which a bill that has been rejected by the House of Lords can be forced through on a second majority vote, thereby overriding the Lords, after a year’s delay. Normally it is applied only to important government bills. However, the government has not formally made the proposal for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU one of its own. Hence it is a “private member’s” bill.


The Commons Speaker will have to decide whether the bill can be given extra time to be debated, but this could then lead to a timetable motion being tabled with one part of the coalition – the Conservatives – calling for extra government time in the Commons and the other opposing extra time.

It remains a constitutional grey area whether one part of a coalition government can table a government timetable motion.

UK legislative practice continues to evolve.

And, of course, the entire story is of interest because while the Conservatives are divided over the EU, their Liberal Democratic coalition partners are pro-EU (and against a referendum that they once favored, when they thought they’d get the definitive pro-EU result they wanted). As the headline indicates, the LibDems will work with the Labour opposition to try to derail the bill from passing before the 2015 election. The issue is just one of many on which the current coalition partners will differentiate themselves in the run-up to that election, with a possible eye to a Labour-LibDem coalition or other cooperation thereafter.

Interesting times in UK politics.

The SPD vote on joining German coalition

The German Social Democratic Party (SPD) membership voted 76% in favor of ratifying the coalition agreement struck by its leadership with the leaders of the Christian Democratic and Christian Social Unions. They will now enter the not-so-grand coalition headed by Angela Merkel, who enters her third term as German Chancellor.

Michael Miebach, deputy director of the Progressives Zentrum think tank, quoted in the Guardian before the vote, summed it all up well:

“It looks more and more like an ingenious chess move that solves several problems at once. Instead of debating the disastrous election result or even the detail of the coalition deal, everyone’s talking about the ballot,” Miebach said. “It will keep in check party rebels who complain that they weren’t asked, and it has proved a useful tool during the negotiations with Merkel. But of course, it could still all end in disaster.”

The chances of an end in “disaster” presumably were never strong, for the reasons Miebach offers elsewhere in the quote. That did not prevent the same Guardian article from saying that a vote against “would lead to nothing short of a national crisis”. Hyperbole? We won’t get to find out.

According to the first-linked news story, at DW,

The CDU will have the chancellor and five ministers. Its sister party, the CSU, will have three ministries. The SPD will have six.

The SPD will have the Justice and Consumer Protection portfolio, which is a newly combined ministry, as well as:

the foreign ministry, a Ministry of Economic Affairs now enhanced with an energy policy mandate, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Family Affairs.

It also gets a Vice Chancellorship.

With six of 15 ministers, the SPD has 40% of the cabinet. The coalition parties control just under 80% of the seats in the Bundestag. The SPD has about 30% of the seats, which corresponds to 38% of the cabinet’s parliamentary basis. So it is represented in cabinet at very slightly above its contribution to the cabinet’s collective Bundestag representation.

How common are party membership ballots to ratify coalition agreements?

German coalition agreement

The CDU, CSU, and SPD have concluded a coalition agreement. It must be ratified by the SPD membership in a postal ballot.

My immediate reaction is that the SPD did quite well. The lack of other alternatives–the Greens had already broken off earlier talks on forming a coalition with the CDU and CSU–and the real risk that the SPD members could veto whatever deal was struck seems to have resulted in quite significant concessions from the CDU and CSU, given that the latter conservative “Union” parties were only a few seats short of a majority on their own.

The SPD gets its demand for a minimum wage of 8.50 euros, but it will still be possible through 2016 for employers and unions to agree to a lower wage. The parties compromised their positions on renewable energy targets and pension eligibility. The CSU obtained its demand for freeway tolls for vehicles registered in other countries (as long as it is consistent with EU law).

Clips of each of the three party leaders at a press conference (dubbed into English) announcing the deal are available on DW. It is noteworthy that the CSU leader speaks separately, and last of the three. We often speak of the “CDU/CSU” as if it were effectively a single party. And, in terms of not competing against each other in elections and, at least so far, not having gone into or out of government without the other, they do act almost as one. Yet it is clear that in coalition bargaining, they are separate parties. If one watches the clips, one sees the CSU leader, Horst Seehofer, specifically claim credit for achievements for his party. He mentions that the “grand coalition” was always his preference (implicitly suggesting others might have had a different preference), and he mentions concessions favorable to the states (his party is active in a single state, Bavaria), as well as the freeway-tolls deal.